I think the hardest thing when I become a mom was taking care of myself. And not just my physical and psychological needs like showering wearing clean clothes, or spending quality time with my husband, but also taking care of my intellectual needs.
Before I became a stay-at-home-mom, I took courses, I volunteered, and (when I lived in Canada and was legally allowed to) I worked. My day was filled with interesting conversations with intelligent and fascinating people. When my son was born and I was home with a baby who barely even opened his eyes, I became very lonely and isolated with no one to talk to or learn from. My need for an intellectual outlet was still there but I channeled it into over-thinking and over-researching things to do with caring for my kid. I would get stuck in these endless loops debating sleep training or baby-led weaning or how often to give my kid a bath…and the judgment would set in towards those who did things differently from me. ‘Cause I mean, clearly, they didn’t think it through as I had. *Let me roll my eyes at my past self*.
Now, I’m trying to be better. I still like to do research and learn about things to do with childcare and educational philosophies and share all that I’ve learned with people (Hello all my posts on Charlotte Mason!), but I try to not let the judgment police come to dinner anymore. One of the gifts Miss Mason has given me is an even bigger intellectual outlet so that I can do my research and share it and apply it to my life but then take the piece of my brain that was analyzing what other people were doing and give it something else to think about: Mother Culture.
What is Mother Culture?
Mother Culture is just learning new things for the sake of learning new things. Keeping our minds sharp so that when our kids ask “Why is the sky blue?” we could actually have an answer (not that you always want to have an answer, there is value in long-term pondering for children…but more on that later).
I have found wisdom in much of Charlotte Mason’s writings, but I’m going to share one of my favourite passages with you:
“Is there not some need for ‘mother culture’? But how is the state of things to be altered? So many mothers say, ‘I simply have no time for myself!’ ‘I never read a book!’ Or else, ‘I don’t think it is right to think of myself!’ They not only starve their minds, but they do it deliberately, and with a sense of self-sacrifice which seems to supply ample justification.
Mother must have time to herself. And we must not say ‘I cannot.’ Can any of us say till we have tried, not for one week, but for one whole year, day after day, that we ‘cannot’ get one half-hour out of the twenty-four for ‘Mother Culture?’–one half-hour in which we can read, think, or ‘remember.’
The habit of reading is so easily lost; not so much, perhaps, the power of enjoying books as the actual power of reading at all. It is incredible how, after not being able to use the eyes for a time, the habit of reading fast has to be painfully regained…
The wisest woman I ever knew–the best wife, the best mother, the best mistress, the best friend–told me once, when I asked her how, with her weak health and many calls upon her time, she managed to read so much, ‘I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’ That is the secret; always have something ‘going’ to grow by. If we mothers were all ‘growing’ there would be less going astray among our boys, less separation in mind from our girls…
A brisk walk will help. But, if we would do our best for our children, grow we must; and on our power of growth surely depends, not only our future happiness, but our future usefulness.
Is there, then, not need for more ‘Mother Culture’?” Volume III, no. 2 The Parents’ Review
This idea captivated me. Could I find 30 minutes per day to dedicate to “Mother Culture”? I certainly found enough time to watch Gilmore Girls reruns. Surely I could find time to challenge myself. I wasn’t exactly sure what to even start with. A craft? A book? A walk in the woods? In the end, I turned off the TV and hid my phone away and I started with the thing I’ve loved most: I picked up a book.
I started reading again. Not blogs or Facebook status updates or news articles, but actual books. I took Charlotte Mason’s words to heart, “The wisest woman I ever knew…told me once… ‘I always keep three books going–a stiff book, a moderately easy book, and a novel, and I always take up the one I feel fit for!’”
I resolved to start limiting myself to 3 books at a time (I am notorious for starting many many many books and never finishing one but saying that I am “reading” it, when I’m really not) and to really try to find “living books” as my choices.
- A stiff book. Right now I am reading “For the Love of Physics” by Walter Lewin, a physics professor at MIT who is passionate about physics and has won many awards for his teaching. It is not written “stiffly”, his writing style is actually very engaging, but it is difficult for me because my knowledge of physics is very poor (electricity works by magic, right?) so it requires all of my focus and concentration.
2) A moderately easy book. Right now I am reading Charlotte Mason’s 6 volumes. When I first started reading them, I would consider her writing style to be “stiff”, but it’s amazing how much your reading skills improve as you get more familiar with the writing style. After reading 3 volumes, I’m finding her writing much easier to get through.
3) A novel. I resolved to read one novel from every majorly famous/renowned author. I want to be familiar with the stories that pop up in pop-culture but I don’t really know much about the original. For example, I know the quote, “Elementary, my dear Watson”, is from Sherlock Holmes, but I have never read anything by Arthur Conan Doyle. So I brainstormed a list and strive to read one book by:
- Charles Dickens
- John Steinbeck
- Jane Austen
- Charlotte Brontë
- Ernest Hemingway
- J.D. Salinger
- Albert Camus
- Agatha Christie
- Mark Twain
- Fyodor Dostoyevsky
- Arthur Conan Doyle
- George Orwell
- Stephen King
- Margaret Atwood
So far in 2019, I have tackled Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie, the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (OMG LOVED THIS BOOK), the Plague by Albert Camus (OMG I HATED THIS BOOK. I actually quit ⅔ of the way in because it was just the most boring possible book I could imagine being written about a bubonic plague quarantining an entire city post-WWII. Apparently French writers who wax poetic about life and death are not for me), and I’m now reading David Copperfield by Charles Dickens. At this rate, it will take me about 3 years to read a novel from each of these authors, so this list is long enough for me!
Getting Focused Enough to Read
When I first started on this resolution in April 2018, I found it really hard to concentrate and focus even for 10 minutes on what I was reading. After years of reading tweets and status updates and endlessly scrolling, my eyes flitting down the page, my attention span was abysmal. So I downloaded an app (yes, kind of an oxymoron to use technology to curtail my technology addiction, but whatever) called Forest.
With Forest, you set a timer (for say, 30 minutes) and the goal is to not touch your phone and to focus on what you’re supposed to focus on for the entire time. If you focus for the time you set out, you grow a tree to add to your forest. If you touch your phone and close out of the app during that time, your tree DIES and you have this little dead tree in your forest. Sad little dead tree. As you can see, in 2018, I was not perfect and killed many trees responding to texts.
This screen shot of my forest isn’t comprehensive of every time I sat down to read because I didn’t need to use the app every time to divert my attention away from my phone. Like a muscle, focus and attention strengthen over time.
Additionally, I’m the kind of person who loves checklists. It helps keep me accountable as I love checking things off. Not everyone is a list person, but I am. So I started a Mother Culture Log Book to check off every day when I did my reading. It is a daytimer where I write in a corner of my calendar 10 minutes on each of the three books I am reading. I also challenged myself to read one poem (I forgot I loved poetry) and one entry from an encyclopedia about nature. Having this daily checklist helped me keep up with my Mother Culture goals even when I didn’t feel like it, because I do always feel like checking something off a list, especially when it only takes ~35 minutes to complete the entire list. I recognize this is next-level nerd, but hey, I say, embrace whatever nerdy system works for you to accomplish your goals. So now, on to explain my other nerdy system, my Book of Books.
My Book of Books
To document my reading and to help me finish what I start (with the exception of the Plague because seriously, I can’t complain enough about this book), I also started a Book of Books. It is a simple notebook, and when I finish a book, I write it in at the top of the fresh page and then I write my personal review of the book and give it a rating out of 5. It’s just for me. A personal diary. But it’s fun to look back on all the books I’ve read this year and remember what I read. And yes, I did write an entry about the Plague so I could forever remember how awful it is, even though I consciously gave up on Camus.
My Book of Books tells me that since April 1, 2018, I have read 20 books totaling 4792 pages. I know, I’m shocked too. And before you think “I don’t have time to read this much”, let me repeat – my goal was to read 30 minutes per day. 10 minutes from each of 3 books. Sometimes I got really into reading and read for longer than 30 minutes after DK went to sleep. But many days I didn’t manage to read at all because I had to binge watch Silicon Valley, The Crown, Escape to the Country, or the Good Place. I am very surprised to see those numbers reflected in nearly one year of reading for 30 minutes per day and I am inspired to see what I can accomplish in 2019.
So what about you? What’s something you could do for 30 minutes per day that would help you grow and develop as a person and as a parent? It doesn’t have to be reading like me. Maybe you really loved painting in high school and you haven’t picked it up in 15 years. Maybe you loved math but never went any further than what you were forced to do in school. You could pick up where you left off and teach yourself, 30 minutes per day. Maybe you want to learn a second language. Or perhaps you’re craving something tactile and want to learn how to knit. I’m here to tell you you CAN do it. You DO have time. 30 minutes per day over 1 year is almost 200 hours towards learning a new skill or getting back in touch with an old passion. You will be astounded at what you can accomplish a little at a time.
Thanks to the internet, which is both a blessing and a curse – there are limitless resources on learning all of those things with help from experts, guided tutorials, samples, patterns, and step-by-step instructions. And if you do not know where to start, ask me, and I would happily help you find some resources to get you on your own Mother Culture path.